‘In Tangier,’ the Moroccan novelist Mohamed Choukri wrote, ‘everything is surreal and everything is possible.’ In this intimate portrait of a city, the former BBC North Africa correspondent, Richard Hamilton, explores its hotels, cafes, alleyways and darkest secrets to find out what it is that has inspired so many international writers, artists and musicians. Delving down through complex historical layers, he finds a frontier town that is comic, confounding and haunted by the ghosts of its past. Samuel Pepys thought God should destroy Tangier and St Francis of Assisi called it a city of ‘madness and delusions.’ And yet, throughout the centuries, Tangier has also been a crucible of creativity. It was a turning point in Henri Matisse’s artistic journey and had a profound impact on the founder of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones. Tangier also produced two of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century: The Sheltering Sky and Naked Lunch. Besides Paul Bowles and William Burroughs, the book also looks at lesser known characters such as the flawed genius, Brion Gysin, as well as Ibn Battuta, who travelled three times further than Marco Polo. The city’s contradictory quality is perhaps best encapsulated in a local saying: ‘you cry when you leave Tangier and you cry when you arrive’.
In April (2018) Richard was invited to give three guest lectures on board The World. His talks included an introduction to Morocco, a history of Casablanca and a cultural history of Tangier. Richard also read stories from The Last Storytellers. The ship is the world’s largest private yacht.
The Calm app has included one of the stories from Richard Hamilton’s The Last Storytellers in the app. Richard recorded the story specially and users of the app can now listen to The Red Lantern.
When I recorded The Last Storytellers for Calm’s Sleep Stories collection, the producers asked me to read it quite softly and slowly – as befits a bedtime story. I was surprised by how much richer and more intimate it sounded when read in this manner. In the past when I had read it aloud it I had always tried to project it like an actor, but this experience was completely new to me. It was a kind of revelation that showed me how powerful stories can be when the reader pauses and allows the suspense to build up. It was a great pleasure to record the story and I hope that listeners will enjoy it too, as countless others must have done for centuries in Marrakech’s magical square, the Jemaa el Fnaa.
Read more on the Calm app blog
Richard’s latest project is the House of Stories – a collection of videos of traditional storytellers from all over the world. Following on from The Last Storytellers, which aimed to preserve traditional tales from Morocco, the House of Stories hopes to do the same for endangered folk tales, legends and myths across the globe. Its aim is to eventually become the largest online library of stories ever collected, that everyone can access forever.
Richard introduced storytellers as part of the regular Thursday sessions at Cafe Clock in Marrakech’s Kasbah
Richard speaking at the Marrakech Arts Festival February 2014
King Mohammed VI sent Richard this letter about his book
Review by Sandy McCutcheon